2012-08-29 23:15:00

Ahead of Address, Romney Disses Obama Foreign Policy

INDIANAPOLIS/TAMPA, Florida - Republican candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday delivered a scathing critique of President Barack Obama's foreign policy, accusing Obama of weakening America's place in the world as he broadened his campaign rhetoric beyond economic concerns.

On the eve of the biggest speech of his life to the Republican convention, the former Massachusetts governor sought to counter Democratic criticism of his own inexperience abroad.

"For the past four years President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish," White House hopeful Romney told an American Legion gathering in Indianapolis, Indiana. "In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it's not earned, insult where it's not deserved and apology where it's not due."

Romney's remarks set the tone for speeches at the convention in Tampa, Florida, later on Wednesday by two foreign policy heavyweights in the party: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Senator John McCain.

The convention will then pivot back to the economy when Romney's running mate, conservative budget hawk Paul Ryan, takes center stage. That will be followed by Romney's acceptance speech on Thursday night, launching him into the final 10-week sprint of the campaign.

In Indianapolis, Romney denounced Obama's handling of both friends and foes of America.

"We used to nurture our alliances and stand up for our common values," he said. "But when it comes to friends and allies like Poland, the Czech Republic and Israel - and with nations that oppose us like Iran and Cuba - President Obama has moved in the opposite direction."

Romney has faced criticism for being vague on what he would do differently than Obama.

Romney also accused Obama of exposing the U.S. military to "reckless" spending cuts and said the president's failure to turn around the U.S. economy also posed a threat to America's security in the world.

His mention of cuts was a reference to the "fiscal cliff" that looms at the end of this year due to an agreement between Obama and congressional Republicans last summer. The deal puts in place $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts - half of that in defense spending - if the two sides fail to reach a budget compromise.

Foreign policy and military matters are points of vulnerability for Romney. A trip abroad last month aimed at burnishing his credentials was plagued by gaffes and stumbles.

Obama, whose own foreign policy inexperience was widely viewed as a weakness four years ago, now generally gets high marks in polls on the topic - particularly since the killing of Osama bin Laden last year.

RYAN TAKES CENTER-STAGE

International matters are not on the agenda when Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman who himself is a foreign policy neophyte, takes his turn in the spotlight on Wednesday.

Careful not to emulate predecessor Sarah Palin, who fell from grace quickly after bursting onto the 2008 campaign as McCain's running mate, Ryan has made a cautious start to the presidential race.

It is still unclear whether he will help Romney draw support from undecided voters who may be the critical factor in the November 6 election in which the Republican ticket is pitted against Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Polls show a mixed picture.

Ryan has energized conservatives in a way Romney was unable to do during the long months of the Republican primary battle, when he faced a number of conservative challengers.

Ryan's place in prime time on Wednesday offers him the chance to introduce himself to millions of Americans who are just starting to tune in to a presidential race that is too close to call. While Ryan, chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, is well known in Washington, he is little known elsewhere.

The Obama campaign, hoping to steal some of Ryan's thunder, released an online video accusing him of harboring "out-of-step views from a bygone era" that would hurt the middle class, threaten Medicare and undercut women's abortion rights.

Democrats are using Ryan's budget plan against him in states like Florida, with its large population of retirees, and in Virginia, where thousands of government employees populate the suburbs adjoining the capital.

Romney can ill afford to lose either of those two states.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday found that exactly half of Americans approve of Ryan and the other half disapprove of him.

Despite criticisms of his austere budget plan, the boyish 42-year-old Ryan, a fitness fanatic, has shown himself to be an affable asset to Romney so far.

He has helped generate large crowds when the pair has campaigned together, and some conservatives who were not that excited about Romney are now ready to work hard for him with Ryan on the ticket.

Ryan also helps put in play Wisconsin, which has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984. A Romney victory there could alter the electoral map in a way that could hurt Obama's hopes for re-election.

LITTLE KNOWN OUTSIDE WASHINGTON

With the convention shifting into high gear, delegates kept a wary eye on Hurricane Isaac as it pounded the Louisiana coast. There was concern that televised images of political revelry in Tampa could provide a jarring contrast to the storm's onslaught, although by Wednesday afternoon Isaac had been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Speaking before Ryan will be Rice, who served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

"There is no doubt that the United States' voice has been muted. When the United States' voice is muted, the world is a more dangerous place," Rice told CBS's "This Morning" program when asked what Obama had done wrong in global affairs.

While Romney says Obama has weakened America's position in the world, the White House contends the president has improved the country's image after it was damaged by the Bush administration's perceived go-it-alone approach.

Rice told CBS she would not accept a position in Romney's administration if he wins the election.

Other speakers at the Republican convention have sought to put a human face on the often robotic Romney and enhance his likability. On Tuesday, there was no better advocate for him than his wife, Ann Romney.

She admitted to reporters she had never used a prompting device to read a speech, but during the actual delivery she seemed at ease as she painted a personal portrait of Romney, who Democrats denounce as an out-of-touch, wealthy elitist.

Mrs. Romney spoke of the early years of their marriage when the high school sweethearts dined on cheap meals of tuna and pasta, saying her husband was "not handed success" as Romney's opponents charge.

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